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Less than a month after preparing to do a singular animal model study to evaluate a potential coronavirus vaccine, Texas Biomedical Research Institute has raised enough funding to conduct five studies, greatly accelerating research that could ultimately lead to a vaccine for the virus that triggered a global pandemic.

The San Antonio-based organization received more than $3 million in donations last week from a variety of donors, including H-E-B, USAA, the Mays Family Foundation, the McCombs Foundation, the John and Florence Newman Foundation, private donors, and others in the community.

Researchers will use the funds to amplify efforts to investigate how SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes COVID-19 or the novel coronavirus – affects animals. Previously, research was limited to studying the effects on baboons, but now will include macaques, marmosets, mice, and guinea pigs.

Humans and baboons share about 94 percent of DNA, whereas humans and macaques share 93 percent. Similarly, the protein-coding regions of the mouse and human genomes are about 85 percent identical, and humans, marmosets, and guinea pigs have similar immune responses.

Researching multiple species rather than just one allows scientists to gain a better understanding of the disease’s progression, said Dr. Larry Schlesinger, president and CEO of Texas Biomed. Through studying multiple animals, scientists will be able to learn more about how the virus enters cells, how it replicates, and how it attacks other cells, he added.

These studies are a part of the research into how the virus is spread between humans, and help model the best way to approach vaccines and treatments moving forward, Schlesinger said. They also will help provide scientists with more information on how the human body could respond to treatments or vaccines.

“This is why we exist,” Schlesinger said of Texas BioMed. “This is what we’re made for.”

The research, which is expected to be completed in the next four weeks, will allow the institute’s scientists to pinpoint the best animal model to study as far as diagnostics, therapies, and vaccines. These animal models are part of several COVID-19 projects on which the research institute is currently working.

While dozens of labs across the world are racing to find and deploy a COVID-19 vaccine, Texas Biomed said it has no plans to alter the typical timeline for vaccine production in an effort to ensure its safety, said Dr. Deepak Kaushal, director of the Southwest National Primate Research Center and one of the principal investigators of the Texas Biomed study.

“Just because we have one drug candidate, we don’t stop looking for other ways to stop a virus,” Kaushal said. “A vaccine is 12 to 18 months out at a minimum, and while antivirals could come sooner, they will need to undergo testing to ensure they work and are safe for humans.”

Texas Biomed developing a certified non-human primate model of COVID-19 would significantly help speed up the vaccine and treatment activities for all scientists, he added.

Lindsey Carnett

Lindsey Carnett

Lindsey Carnett reports on business and technology for the San Antonio Report.